Aconstumbrandome (Becoming Accustomed)

I apologize to those who don’t speak Spanish for the Spanglish that will undoubtedly begin to creep into my posts. It’s a consequence of spending a vast majority of my time here listening to, thinking about, or speaking Spanish. The good news is that after a week I can already feel the mental effort required to communicate decreasing. I still have about 6 hours of language class per day, but we’re already beginning to transition into our interactions with co-teachers in a local public school as well as organizing our youth group.

I’ve been able to find exercise partners in town as well, so I get up at 4:45 now to lift weights with my host brother (basically in some guy’s living rooms with machines, some stationary bikes and free weights), then head over to a fellow trainee’s house to run at 6. I don’t think that this much daily activity is sustainable, but I figure I’ll settle into an every-other-day pattern soon. Everything continues well with my host family, and I am able to understand the accent better from watching TV with my mom and cousin and asking them to explain the plot backgrounds for me. I really enjoy my family and the pets. I’m lucky to have such fun ages of siblings who can interact with me in playful, peer, or motherly roles. I’m also getting to know the town better after we walked almost every street the other day to draw a map. It turns out that it’s bigger than the 1,000 people I thought it was; more like 8,000-10,000.

The weather continues to be alternatively hot and muggy and rainy, though we’ve had a couple of days now with highs only in the 80s, probably. I think I’ve changed my mind about clouds and weather since arriving here. I’ve always conceived of clouds as tufts of cotton or maybe sponges that squeeze out their contents and then disappear. They looked like wispy things; cotton candy, but now I know better. Clouds are a liquid, pouring their contents down upon the earth and flowing across the sky. The rain comes like waves here and crashes over, only to recede, leaving hot moist earth behind. The high white clouds are sea foam, and perhaps we stuck planes in the sky to give this second ocean its starfish. I’m still getting used to the humidity and constantly sweaty and damp clothes, but I suppose I’ll adapt eventually. It turns out that American gum cannot handle weather this humid. Know what happens? It soaks up the water and has the texture of slimy, already chewed pieces. Tastes all right, though. 🙂

After classes all week, we spent Friday getting to Managua by bus (most public buses are old yellow school buses from the US) and attending trainings on health, safety, teaching English, and computer use. It was great to get together as a group again to share stories about host families and towns as well as compare notes about Spanish and Nica culture.

I think I understand better why people who have served in the peace corps have such a strong bond and why we become so close during our service. A part of it is the shared interests and experiences, but more important is the stripping away of every pretension like the peel off of a banana. We foreigners are not allowed egos here. We’re surrounded in a sea of unknown, becoming like children again in front of each other. This humbling, this nakedness, this excitement that remains when all you know has been taken away is what ties us to one another. It’s not so different from really great friendships back home, but the rapidity and universality of its effect on our group is impossible anywhere else. It’s a feeling that surrounds us and stimulates even the air we breath, like skinny dipping or exploring a cave. It must come from the uncountable realizations about the world around us that wash over us in unfamiliar places.

This also explains why time behaves so differently here. It slows to molasses and holds us captive to every second. A week happens every day and a month in under a week. The rich newness of experience pricks every sense alive and stretches our day like taffy into 32 hours. Its as if after a year of potatoes we’re given a ripe orange and every bursting flavor flows through our body. Hyperbole? Perhaps. I don’t mean to ignore the heat, humidity, lack of running water or shower, or the frustrations inherent in culture shock, but I find myself soaking in this new place with great pleasure. I have a great deal of work to do, but as the old Peace Corps slogan said, it’s the hardest job I’ll ever love.

This upcoming week will be the Fiestas Patrias or independence day celebrations, so there won’t be any work in the schools yet. Instead we’ll be planning our youth group, having more Spanish class, and spending time with our families.

My Spanish class group and teacher at a nearby lake. (L-R) Jose, Erika, Raquel, Andrea

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Courtney on September 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Hi again Andrew! I love the descriptions of the clouds and the rain! And the gum! I met the Peace Corps rep from Chicago for the Madison area yesterday. We were talking about how, when people come back from serving, they really are ready for anything. What an experience for you! Thanks for sharing all of it with us!

    Reply

  2. Posted by Lisa on September 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Please use as much Spanglish as possible! I’m so glad you’re doing well and enjoying yourself. Your updates have been very interesting and descriptive so far, keep them coming! Te extrañamos mucho!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Uncle Jim on September 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Andrew,
    Thank you so much for your generous sharing of your experiences. You are very perceptive, sensitive, and open to absorbing your surroundings and environment. You are also blessed with a gift of the ability to express your experiences and share them with the world in a very eloquent and enjoyable style.
    I encourage you to keep it up as best you can, not only for the benefit of those of us who look forward to reading your posts, but because I sense that the process of sharing your thoughts and experiences in written word will spawn its own rewards and help you to grow into the future.
    I can see your Grandpa Boddy smiling down on you. I know that he would be extremely proud and your biggest supporter in this bold new adventure.
    Keep those cards and letters coming!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Georgie N on December 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Hey Andrew!! Estoy estudiante de Mary Christensen en Pius High School en Milwaukee, tomando una clase independente de espanol con otra estudiante. Ms Christensen nos contó sobre su blog y querríamos mirarlo. I’ve read a lot of your posts and what you have said is so interesting and well-written! I am particularly interested in your situation because I will be graduating high school this May and am not sure of what I want to do after that, but I know it will be a global adventure like what you have undertaken. I might go to college in America for international relations, majoring in Spanish, and try to become an ambassador or interpreter. But I have also applied for a program in which I would spend a year studying and staying with a host family in Morocco learning Arabic. I am also very interested in joining the Peace Corps and would love to hear more about it from you. Your posts have been so descriptive, informational, entertaining, and especially helpful for me because I crave the experience you are currently having. What you are doing is amazing and it is exactly what I hope to be doing in one or two years!

    I have had relatively short excursions into the world you are in (2 weeks in Guatemala, 10 days in Costa Rica) to experience just a glimpse of those beautiful people and landscapes. I definitely will be going back as soon as I can. Your blog is totally inspiring to me-thank you! I might email or post with any specific questions about Peace Corps assignments or Nicaragua if I continue along that path. Keep up the great work!

    Reply

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